Sport Matters

“More Sport. Less Poverty!”
02/24/2014 10:12

International advocacy efforts have great potential to be enhanced by the new United Nations international day to celebrate Sport for Development and Peace.


Sport Matters welcomes the introduction of an International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, a significant milestone for the sport and development community, and the latest in a number of steps that have demonstrated increasing international recognition for the role of sport to contribute to global development goals.


The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace will be celebrated on April,6 marking the opening of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 (United Nations, 2013). The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the decision in New York on August 23, 2013, attended by Member States and key stakeholders, including International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge and current men’s world number one tennis player, Novak Djokovic.


Sport Matters is an Australian based Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) that aims to make a positive and long-lasting impact on development in Australia, the Pacific, Asia and Africa. For Sport Matters the declaration of a new International Day of Sport for Development and Peace will provide an important platform to raise awareness, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, about what sport for development and peace is, and how sport is making an impact on development goals globally and locally. 


On the declaration of the new international day of Sport for Development and Peace, Ms. Tanisha Hewanpola, First Secretary to the Australian Mission to the United Nations (United Nations Security Council, 2013, para. 2), said:

“Ultimately, sport has the potential to help us reach our development goals, to promote understanding and to achieve sustainable peace. Today’s resolution also makes clear the important role of the United Nations in furthering these ideals.”

Ms. Hewanpola affirmed Australia’s support of the resolution and commitment to the ideals of sport. Furthermore, she celebrated the potential of sport to unite and inspire, and to promote understanding, equality and social inclusion. 


One could argue that the international calendar is already inundated with celebrations for everything under the sun, from Human Space Flight Day to Intellectual Property Day to Jazz Day. A  number of international days already exist to recognise sport and its impact around the world including Olympic Day and World Day for Physical Activity. How does the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace claim a meaningful place in the world, beyond a listing on the United Nations calendar?


The International Olympic Committee (IOC) introduced an Olympic Day in 1948 to commemorate the birth of the modern Olympic Games and its goal is to promote participation in sport across the globe regardless of age, gender or athletic ability. Typically, the Olympic Day is celebrated on June 23 with the hosting of the Olympic Day Run by National Olympic Committees. The new International Day of Sport for Development and Peace can embrace and promote the Olympic values and complement the Olympic Day. Moreover, the scope of celebrations should extend across all thematic areas of sport and development including, for example, health, economic development, gender, disability, disaster, peace and the environment. Close ties between the United Nations and IOC may also foster greater support from Olympic Solidarity towards sport for development initiatives under the Sport for All World Programme. 


Also featured on the United Nations calendar is World Health Day that is celebrated on April 7.

In 2002 the World Health Organisation made the decision to promote physical activity in conjunction with World Health Day, so April 6 became the World Day of Physical Activity. The Agita Mundo Network based in Brazil leads celebrations and promotions of physical activity around the world. Next year the theme ‘A golden goal for health!’ highlights the close relationship between the public perception of ‘physical activity’ and ‘sport’. In the context of sport for development and peace, sport is defined as: (International Working Group on Sport for Development and Peace, 2003, p. 2)


“All forms of physical activity that contribute to physical fitness, mental well-being and social interaction. These include play; recreation; organised, casual or competitive sport; and indigenous sports or games.”           


It is very fitting that the new International Day of Sport for Development and Peace falls on World Day of Physical Activity, providing an opportunity to broaden global understanding of sport in the context of development and peace outcomes. In fact, Sport Matters launched its website on April 6, 2011, in conjunction with World Day of Physical Activity for exactly that purpose.


Celebrations of sport already take place in conjunction with international days such as International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination - Harmony Day - on March 21, and International Day of People with a Disability on December 3. There is potential to capitalise on other international days that may help focus attention toward the impact of sport on particular development areas. For example, World Heart Day and World Diabetes Day are excellent platforms to promote the role of sport to address risk factors associated with non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The declaration of new International Day of Sport for Development and Peace creates an opportunity to better articulate sport for development and peace globally, and having the full support of the United Nations behind the initiative has enormous potential to expand the circle of influence of the sector.

Sport offers a unique avenue for aid and development organisations to engage a broader range of partners to work towards their existing development goals. It can open doors to new partnerships with sport organisations from developing countries, but also from developed countries, many of whom are taking a more active role in supporting sport for development activities in international development. The relationship between the IOC and the UN demonstrates a long-standing commitment to development cooperation on a global scale. The UN and IOC jointly hold an International Forum on Sport for Peace and Development, at which the recommendation was made to formalise an international day linked to the UN’s Sport for Development and Peace initiative. Establishing this day on the date of the opening of the modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896 also reflects the depth of cooperation between the two global institutions.

Current men’s world number one tennis player, Novak Djokovic, joined the IOC President in New York for the decision, underlining the important part athlete role-models can play as advocates of sport for development and peace. It is essential to ensure that appropriate athlete role models who uphold particular values in their lives, as well as in their sporting careers, are selected. Speaking in New York at the announcement of the UN International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, IOC President Jacques Rogge (International Olympic Committee, 2013, p. 2) said:


“The power of sport derives from the values of sport, and it is those values that make sport so effective as a tool for development and peace … Sport with values is a gateway to cultural understanding, education, health and economic and social development.”


Leadership from elite athletes can be very effective, however, in the context of sport for development and peace the focus is not on talent identification, athlete pathways or sporting success. The focus is on the application of sport at the grassroots or community level to address targeted development goals. Djokovic is also a UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Global Ambassador, which is a good example of a United Nations agency embracing sport for development and peace in its global strategy to advocate for the rights of children. 


The United Nations Office of Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) based in Geneva provides an entry point to the United Nations system with regard to sport for development and peace, and works to bring the worlds of sport and development together. In a recent contribution to an e-debate hosted by the International Platform on Sport and Development, Mr. Wilfried Lemke argued that we need to be more precise in articulating the impact of sport for development and peace to better and more convincingly promote the sector to a wider audience (International Platform on Sport and Development, 2013, para. 7). He said:  

“ … speaking with one voice as a community and being supported by scientific evidence are crucial aspects with respect to positioning sport as a credible tool.”


Mr. Wilfried Lemke recently visited the Oceania region and participated in a series of meetings and program visits in Australia, Fiji, and New Zealand before attending the 2nd Pacific Youth and Sports Conference in New Caledonia. Many regional sport and development actors were encouraged by the visit from the UNOSDP delegation and look forward to greater international collaboration linking the Oceania region with international sport for development and peace stakeholders. 


Sport Matters creates new partnerships bringing together sport, development and community organisations and using the IMPACT Toolkit addresses targeted development goals such as health, education and economic development (Sport Matters, 2013). Our vision is “More Sport. Less Poverty” and we work with an increasing number of partners in Australia and overseas from the sport sector but also from the aid and development sector. Sport Matters is a member of the Australian Council for International Development and is firmly aligned within the family of aid and development agencies in Australia working towards the eradication of extreme poverty.  


Sport Matters has introduced a number of advocacy activities including an international photo competition and our inaugural international sport for development conference. The photo competition attracted entries from countries such as Kenya, Laos, Timor-Leste, Brazil, South Korea and Australia, with the entry from Kenya declared the competition winner. The conference aimed to both celebrate and interrogate the impact of sport for development and stimulate new partnerships and research to help build the growing evidence based in this space. A second international conference will be held in Queensland in 2014 and will be another opportunity to investigate and promote the impact of sport for development initiatives in our region and beyond.


Sport Matters intends to utilise the new International Day of Sport for Development and Peace for targeted advocacy campaigns each year. Plans are already underway for the first celebration on April 6, 2014. We hope to launch a new sport for development project in Australia along with a series of sport for development resources. The new International Day of Sport for Development and Peace provides a unique opportunity for Sport Matters to create new partnerships and advocate for greater investment in sport for development by government and the corporate sector. The international day shall be recognised with annual celebrations, and lobbying and advocacy events to influence development partners, government partners and the general public.


The sport and development community is sometimes criticised for its fragmentation with many actors implementing sport-based interventions, lacking a cohesive or coordinated approach to planning, implementation and reflection. On its own, the new International Day of Sport for Development and Peace won’t be a game-changer, however, a dedicated international day may go a long way to changing perceptions about sport and its potential, and communicating the diversity and complexity in the application of sport for development and peace.


The sport and development community could capitalise on a number of opportunities surrounding the new International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, including:


Coordinated consultation on themes for each year’s international day celebrations

Increased structure to the sport and development community to facilitate communication, coordination and celebration.

Closer collaboration internationally may also lead to other developments such as new networks, policy, advocacy or research initiatives.

Increased global cooperation may also foster streamlining of local and regional initiatives and enable a more coordinated approach to impact assessment across thematic areas.


Most importantly, there is great scope to bring home the message that sport is a human right, not a luxury way down the list of priorities that people can only afford once their other needs have been met. 


Will this new development of a dedicated international day have meaning? Will it go by unnoticed or will it lead to greater awareness, coordination and growth? It is up to all of us in the sport and development community to ensure that this opportunity is not wasted. Sport Matters will certainly play its part by celebrating International Day of Sport for Development and Peace on April 6 together with our sport, development, community, and government partners. Let us all lead by example and take action to ensure that this announcement is more than a public relations exercise, and leads to tangible impact on poverty alleviation using sport to empower individuals and unite families, communities and nations.


Sport Matters is delighted that the United Nations declared an International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. We acknowledge the leaders within the sport and development community who provided the strategic vision and lobbying that contributed to this significant milestone. We look forward to increased global attention, united action and annual celebrations that showcase the impact of sport on the development agenda. As international debate intensifies around the successors to the Millennium Development Goals and the new framework for the post 2015 development era, it is a timely and welcome addition to the United Nations calendar.



Jackie Lauff |




International Olympic Committee. (2013). UN creates international day of sport for development and peace, Peace through Sport. Retrieved from


International Olympic Committee. (2013). Statement by Dr Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee, UN General Assembly 67th Session. Retrieved from


International Working Group on Sport for Development and Peace (2003). Towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals through Sport for Development and Peace.  United Nations: Author


International Platform on Sport and Development. (2013). E-debate: Speaking with one voice, Mr Wilfried Lemke. Retrieved from

  Sport Matters. (2013). What we do, Sport Matters. Retrieved from


United Nations Security Council. (2013). Statement by Ms Tanisha Hewanpola, First Secretary, Australian Mission to the United Nations, United Nations Security Council. Retrieved from